«Stella: A Play for Lovers» (1776) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

by Kristina Becker (Editor and translator) Susan Gustafson (Editor and translator)
©2018 Others VIII, 110 Pages
Series: German Studies in America, Volume 74


Goethe’s play Stella (1776) caused so much turmoil in Germany that it was retracted from the stage. In England, it was portrayed as evidence of lesser German values because of its portrayal of a ménage à trois. This new translation provides an introduction exploring the reception of the play in Germany and England, scholarly interpretations of the play, and the portions that were left out in earlier translations. The introduction also outlines the major questions the play highlights: Why do the two women, Stella and Cecilia, ultimately accept the ménage à trois? Can they trust Fernando, who flirts with every woman he meets? Do women and men conceive of marriage and loving commitments differently? Do the women agree to the ménage à trois because it is the only way they can be together as friends or as lovers? In addition, this translation has an appendix that outlines all of the changes (over 100) that Goethe made in 1806 in order to get the play back on stage. A useful resource for students, teachers, and scholars alike, this translation sheds new light on Goethe’s classic play.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Translators’ Introduction
  • Stella: A Play for Lovers (1776)
  • Act 1
  • Act 2
  • Act 3
  • Act 4
  • Act 5
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix
  • Act 1
  • Act 2
  • Act 3
  • Act 4
  • Act 5
  • 1776 Ending
  • 1806 Ending
  • Series index

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We are dedicating this translation to the Susan B. Anthony Institute at the University of Rochester in acknowledgment of all of their support for women, families, and translations and research of importance to women’s studies and gender studies. We are also grateful for all of the assistance and support of the editors of the series, Gail Hart, Peter Meilaender, Kai Evers, and Celia Applegate and for the suggestions given to us by the anonymous peer reviewer. In addition, our heartfelt thanks goes to our families who have supported us so much throughout this process and who have given our work and life so much meaning. So many thanks and love to Gary, Xeni, and Kaia Gustafson and Shel and Ruthie Malett.

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Translators’ Introduction

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) is one of Germany’s most famous and revered authors. Both within Germany and abroad Goethe is best known for his drama, Faust, and his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Indeed, his Faust drama inspired a number of musical works by Schumann, Berlioz, Gounod, Boito, Busoni, Liszt, Wagner, and Mahler. Goethe is also considered a major contributor to several transforming literary movements in Germany and Europe including the Storm and Stress period, Classicism, and Romanticism. In spite of his high renown, however, Goethe’s play, Stella: A Play for Lovers (1776), is relatively unknown to both scholars and the general public, and is not usually listed as one of his most influential works.

When it was first produced, Goethe’s Stella: A Play for Lovers caused so much turmoil that in Germany, Goethe was forced to retract it from the stage after ten performances in Weimar and Hamburg. German audiences were appalled by the ménage à trois that forms at the end of the play. Historically, audiences, translators, and scholars have focused on the “disturbing” polygamous relationship that forms at the end of the play as the two women, Stella and Cecilia, come together with Fernando. As Dye notes, Stella: A Play for Lovers supplants “conventional with unconventional social relationships” by replacing monogamous marriage with a ménage à trois.1 Of course polygamy was widely discussed during the eighteenth century. Liberals argued that it was natural and perhaps beneficial to society, but there was also a growing reaction against such unconventional, non-monogamous relationships. Indeed, during the time that Goethe’s Stella was performed polygamy was largely considered to offend “every principle of modern, enlightened ethics.”2 Polygamy was a contested family form ← 1 | 2 → throughout Europe and England, and Goethe’s Stella play was vehemently rejected in both Germany and England for its portrayal of a polygamous relationship.


VIII, 110
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
Goethe Stella ménage à trois relationships between men and women relationships between women (friendship, love) appendix translation
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. VIII, 105 pp.

Biographical notes

Kristina Becker (Editor and translator) Susan Gustafson (Editor and translator)

Susan E. Gustafson is the Karl F. and Bertha A. Fuchs Professor of German Studies at the University of Rochester. Her research interests include eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German literature, women’s studies, gender studies, and translation. Her scholarship has focused on non-traditional representations of love and families including same-sex relationships, adoptive families, and all families coming together through love and not determined by social mandates. Kristina Becker Malett is Assistant Professor of Instruction at the University of Rochester. She received her master’s in Education and American Studies at the Free University and Humboldt University Berlin. She taught for several years in the Berlin school system. She also taught German-language courses at the Eastman School of Music 2008–2017 and has been teaching German in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Rochester since 2010.


Title: «Stella: A Play for Lovers» (1776) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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120 pages